The Grand Opening
Alpine Valley Music Theatre celebrated its inaugural season in the summer of 1977, opening with four back-to-back shows, the first two, Boz Scaggs, followed by Neil Sedaka and Helen Reddy. While many may not be familiar with those artists, names such as Chicago, Bob Seger, Harry Chapin, Jimmy Buffett, Kansas and Frank Sinatra, also playing in ’77, may ring a bell. With 36 shows and a total attendance of over 198,000 guests, it’s safe to say that the new venue was a hit.
The Grateful Dead
Of all the acts that have toured the country and played at Alpine Valley Music Theatre, The Grateful Dead are, by far, the act that put Alpine on the map. From the VW buses to the sweet smell of petruli oil, anyone passing through the area could tell who was playing that weekend with the mass number of “Dead Heads” making East Troy, and the surrounding communities, their temporary homes.
Alpine was also known for having camping on grounds, especially when GD was in town. From two shows in a row up to four, it was an all out celebration for all. For those of you that have ever been to Alpine, you know, the parking lots are just as much of the show as the show itself. From the people bathing in the pond off of Pond Road, to the music and dancing into the early hours of the morning, Alpine’s parking lot was a community in itself.
While this all sounds like a great place to be at the time, tensions were rising from excited concert goers and the surrounding community. After a third show on July 7, 1989, (the group was permanently banned from the facility due to the overcrowding and fan behavior throughout the several years of playing at the venue, but this would not be the last time we’d see them).
In August 2002, the remaining members of the band reunited as The Other Ones for Terrapin Station. With months of strategic planning, the proposals were approved and the ban lifted. This wouldn’t be just a normal two shows in a given weekend for anyone. From round-the-clock staff to security check points – only allowing people on the property if they had a ticket in hand, the coordination and staffing would rival some of the biggest festivals around.
After going on tour for a year, the remaining members decided to bring back a bit of history by renaming themselves “The Dead”. The Dead would return to the area, playing Summerfest in Milwaukee in 2003, and revisiting Alpine in 2004. Their 2004 return would not raise the red flags as it did in 2002, leaving the show day run as any other show would. 2004 was the last time we would see The Dead on tour.
Whenever you mention Alpine Valley Music Theatre, if someone isn’t saying anything about the Grateful Dead, then they mention something about Stevie Ray Vaughn’s death. On August 26, 1990, Vaughn lost his life when a helicopter he was riding in, crashed into the side of the hill at the Alpine Valley Ski Resort.
After the show there were a couple of helicopters ready to take Eric Clapton and his crew back to Chicago, as Clapton made a special appearance announcing and playing the final song of “Sweet Home Chicago”. As the helicopter took off in the dense fog, it crashed into the side of the hill. There was no indication of the crash, or that there was anything wrong, until the helicopter failed to arrive at the airport in Chicago. After turning on the locator beacon, the crash site was found close to the theatre.
To this day, there has been only one helicopter landing on property since Stevie’s fateful crash in 1990, which was a radio winner for the Aerosmith concert in 2006.
Through the Years
If anyone was a guest at Alpine Valley Music Theatre when it first opened, and been a guest in the past couple of years, they would be able to tell you that there has been a significant amount of change from then to now.
One area that has significantly changed is the upper plaza and gates. Early photos tell us that the parking lots stretched all the way up the back side of the hill. Since then there has been a paved plaza for merchandise and food/beverage vending, a permanent first aid building, a permanent box office and merchandise stand, along with four main entry gates and a service gate.
When sitting in the seats, if you look stage left/house right (to the right as you look at the stage) you will see a section of wooden fence with a door in it. That wooden fence used to span the entire length of the lawn, all the way to the top. The concession stand that is currently there, wasn’t there. The 12 beer decks that are currently there, weren’t there either. The decks were first put in as the only place on the property where you could drink alcohol. If you wanted to have a beer, you would have to walk to the deck, buy it and drink it while on the deck. After some time the local statutes and the liquor license changed, allowing beer to be served throughout the entire facility, inside the ticket gates.
One of the most significant changes would be the Expo. Called the “Expo” this permanent building was once used as a true exposition hall. From weddings to parties to car shows, this building was a year round facility. The big openings on the south and west walls of the facility used to be closed in with glass doors. There is actually still the reminisce of the duct work which spans across the ceiling of the building, at one time being the heating, ventilating and air conditioning for this structure. Also, still remaining, are some of the original tile that blanketed the floor. When the facility was used year round it had several different tile sections, all of different color and about 40′ x 40′ which were sold to different vendors in the area. When different events took place in the building the vendors would have the ability to setup in these areas and sell or show off their goods.
One thing that has remained the same since day one, is the wood roof pavilion. This wonder is one of the things that makes Alpine so attractive to artists as well as fans. The pairing of the wood roof and the natural valley allow the sound to reverberate almost perfectly, which other buildings can’t say due to the all steel construction. New venues being built today have modern technology on their side, giving them a quality of sound that appeals to every concert goer, but none of them can compare to the natural beauty of Alpine.